The nation's top infectious disease expert, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, and the assistant secretary for health each agreed with Sen. Bernie Sanders Tuesday that any safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine must be made available to everyone in the U.S. regardless of their ability to pay.
"All of us hope to God that a good, safe vaccine will be developed as soon as possible," Sanders said during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing. "But that vaccine may not mean anything to a lower-income person who might not be able to afford it."
Noting that U.S. taxpayers have contributed billions of dollars to help develop a Covid-19 vaccine, the Vermont senator asked the panel: "Would you agree with me that after that kind of investment we should make sure that every American, every person in this country, can get a vaccine regardless of their income?"
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, CDC chief Dr. Robert Redfield, FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, and Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir, each answered in the affirmative.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) June 30, 2020
"Will the administration guarantee that once a vaccine is approved by the FDA it will be made available to everyone in this country free of charge?" Sanders asked in a May 14 letter (pdf) to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. "It would be morally unacceptable to allow the pharmaceutical industry to use this pandemic as another opportunity to make huge profits on the backs of people who can least afford it."
Under the Medicare for All system Sanders advocates, vaccines—not to mention any and all other necessary health services and treatments—would be universally available for free at the point of service.
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During the hearing Tuesday, Sanders also asked Fauci and the other health officials whether they would support the senator's proposal to use the Defense Production Act to mass-produce and distribute face masks to everyone in the U.S. for free.
Fauci said he supports the plan, calling masks "extremely important."
"There's no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected," said Fauci. "So it's people protecting each other. Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it's giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of."
In a tweet following the hearing, Sanders applauded the officials for agreeing that "we need to manufacture and distribute free, high-quality masks and guarantee free vaccines to everyone in America."
"The Senate must listen to our public health experts and immediately pass my proposals to do exactly that," Sanders said.
Today, I asked Dr. Fauci whether we need to manufacture and distribute free, high-quality masks and guarantee free vaccines to everyone in America.
The Senate must listen to our public health experts and immediately pass my proposals to do exactly that. pic.twitter.com/TCc4kDCsn6
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 30, 2020
In his testimony, Fauci broadly warned that the U.S. is currently "going in the wrong direction" in terms of fighting the pandemic and said he fears the infection rate could balloon to 100,000 new cases per day if a change of course is not implemented.